Old French: tot vaincra tant

yong321

Member
Chinese, China
According to the tale of Phyllis and Aristotle (see The tale of Phyllis and Aristotle - Wikipedia), Aristotle "excuses himself to Alexander, saying"

Amour vainc tot, & tot vaincra
tant com li monde durera


On the Wikipedia page, the Modern English translation of this Old French verse is "Love conquers all, and all shall conquer / As long as the world shall last". I think the latter part of the first line is ungrammatical in English, and would like to change it to "and shall conquer all". Another editor disagreed, saying "as in French, it's poetic English, and plainly an inversion (and an old one at that)". We know this is inversion of "vaincra tot" for reason of rhyming with the next line. But do you think an English reader with at least high school education but with no knowledge of French will correctly interpret "all" in "all shall conquer" in this poem as the object of the verb "conquer"?
 
  • olivier68

    Senior Member
    French Paris France
    Not sure to fully understand the question… You also have an inversion in English in: "and all shall conquer".
    Do you want your readers to read the text in English or in French ???
     

    yong321

    Member
    Chinese, China
    My question is, Should the translation be (1) "and all shall conquer" or (2) "and shall conquer all" for the Old French "& tot vaincra"? I think we must choose (2) because (1) is ungrammatical and is difficult for an English reader not knowing French to understand. But another editor of the Wikipedia page chooses (1); he insists on preserving the inversion as in this Old French verse, saying it's poetic English. What do you think?
     

    wildan1

    Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)
    Sometimes inversions are maintained from old texts, but in this case, all shall conquer and shall conquer all in modern English mean different things, so personally I would not maintain that inversion for the purposes of clarity.
     

    olivier68

    Senior Member
    French Paris France
    Bonjour Wildan,
    Vous sortez le bout de phrase de son contexte, lequel ne laisse aucune ambiguïté.
    Je ne dis pas cela méchamment… mais si on suit votre raisonnement... il faudrait réécrire Shakespeare ;-)
    C'est au lecteur de s'adapter au texte de l'auteur, au traducteur de respecter le style de l'auteur.
     

    yong321

    Member
    Chinese, China
    Wildan1: Thank you. I agree with you.

    Olivier68: Merci. "Le bout de phrase"? Quoi? That's all the text of the verse on the Wikipedia page, both the English and French versions (Lai d'Aristote — Wikipédia). As to the context of the whole story, it's actually quite interesting. But the story context does not help an English reader understand "and all shall conquer". It's true that there is still inversion in Modern English, as in "That I don't know", "Only if ... can I ...", or even "What do I do?" But those are well known cases and do not naturally extend to a general application of inversion. I agree that the reader of a translated text should adapt him/her-self to the author, but the adaptation should not go so far as to rendering the "translated" text incomprehensible in the target language. Again, here I assume the reader has at least high school education but has no knowledge of French.
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Just replying as someone who has high school education, and barely any knowledge of French....

    Initially I thought the second "all" was the subject, but it looked odd and I didn't really understand its meaning. Was the "all" referring to everything being conquered in the first part of the sentences, and fighting back? With a bit more thought I might have figured it out, but it's more likely I would just have moved on in my confused state.

    Isn't there an argument for omitting the second "all"? That sounds better to me.
     

    yong321

    Member
    Chinese, China
    Winenous: Which "all" is your "second 'all'" referring to? The choices of translation are: (1) "and all shall conquer" or (2) "and shall conquer all". I prefer (2), which is a sentence that simply repeats the first part "Love conquers all". I don't think it adds the implication of fighting back.

    For me, I realized that the "all" in (1) "and all shall conquer" (currently on Wikipedia) is the object, not subject, *after* I checked the Old French sentence. I believe most English speaking people not knowing French will also have this problem. So I suggest (2) "and shall conquer all".
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Sorry for the lack of clarity.

    When I said 1st and 2nd "all" I meant occurrences in the translation: "Love conquers all (1st all), and all (2nd all) shall conquer..."

    When I first read that translation I initially wondered to myself if it meant that all will fight back. I only mentioned it to indicate that the correct meaning was not immediately clear to me. I do realise now that it was not about fighting back.

    Finally, I suggested the translation "Love conquers all, and shall conquer / As long as the world shall last", which to me sounds good and, conveys the meaning. Alternatively, if you want to keep the orginal word order "Love conquers all, and all shall be conquered / As long as the world shall last". But they are just ideas - I would not argue strongly if you do not like them.

    Hope that is clearer now!
     

    yong321

    Member
    Chinese, China
    Winenous: Thanks for the clarification! Indeed, in "all shall conquer", the "all" definitely sounds like the subject or agent of the action to an English reader. The alternative translations you suggested are very good.
     

    L'irlandais

    Senior Member
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Bonjour Wildan,
    Vous sortez le bout de phrase de son contexte, lequel ne laisse aucune ambiguïté.
    Je ne dis pas cela méchamment… mais si on suit votre raisonnement... il faudrait réécrire Shakespeare ;-)
    C'est au lecteur de s'adapter au texte de l'auteur, au traducteur de respecter le style de l'auteur.
    Je ne suis pas d’accord.
    Malgré la périphrase bien connue désignant l’anglais comme « la langue de Shakespeare », Shakespeare n’écrit pas en anglais, mais dans un idiolecte poétique différant tout autant de l’anglais d’aujourd’hui par son obscurité, sa liberté créatrice, son lexique et sa syntaxe, que de la langue de ses contemporains.
    Source: https://www.cairn.info/shakespeare--9782130729846-page-64.htm#

    When translating poetic(ish) texts it’s difficult to find a balance between guarding the structure and at the same time conveying the (same) meaning. It’s no use slavishly keeping the inversion if the meaning is changed along with the structure. It’s an age old problem for any literary translator: Translators’ Choices in Tartuffe – TTR : traduction, terminologie, rédaction
    The translator could in theory use language of the time the play was written. This option in its pure form is practically never chosen, for writing authentic-sounding seventeenth-century English is a daunting task, and the result would probably not be appreciated by the public.
    While Wildan’s suggestion is a compromise, Traduttore, traditore. I have a reasonable command of English and would not have understood the « and all shall conquer » to mean the same as the French version. Purists will no doubt be disappointed.
     
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